Who Are the Menehune?

Menehune Carving -Peter Lee

Menehune Bank from 1946 -Wikimedia Commons

 Island of Kaua'i - Look Into Hawai'i

Island of Kaua'i -Look Into Hawai'i

Menehune Figurine -Sam Howzit

'Alekoko Fishpond Sign -Look Into Hawai'i

'Alekoko Fishpond -opacity

Menehune Ditch -Peter

Historical Landmark about Menehune at the Heiau of Poliahu -Look Into Hawai'i

Menehune Figurine -Look Into Hawai'i

Sources & Continued Reading

Who are the Menehune?

    In Hawaiian legend, there lives a race of strong people called the Hawaiian legend, there lives a race of strong people called the Menehune that live hidden deep in the forests of the islands. They range from three feet tall to only six inches, small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand. They are said to be shy, but perhaps only because they don’t prefer the company of humans. They are also said to be mischievous yet playful, dangerous one moment and harmless the next. Only the males have ever been reported to have been glimpsed by the human race, and descriptions of them vary greatly. At times, they have long, straight hair pulled over a smooth, naked body. Or they have no hair at all. Or they are very hairy, all over! They are usually depicted as being rather pot-bellied but muscular, with large eyes and a short nose. It is said that when they speak, the Menehune sound like a low humming, a practice they use to remain undetected.

    The Menehune are said to live in caves on the island of Kaua’i during the day or deep in the forests, coming out mostly at night. If they venture into populated areas, it is generally either to help a human accomplish a task secretly in the night, or to play a trick on them. The tiny beings are fun loving and enjoy dancing, singing and playing a variety of instruments, including the nose flute, the ti leaf trumpet and the sharkskin drum. They love races of many kinds, especially foot and sled races and are known to hand-wrestle and play many other games.

“Menehune also enjoy cliff diving, so if you hear splashes in the night on the islands of Hawai’i, it is highly possible a Menehune is diving into the ocean.” -Mythical Realm

    They live off of raw foods, their favorite being fish and banana (mai’a). The Menehune are also known to eat haupia (a pudding of the starch plant) and a sweet potato pudding (koele-palau), as well as squash (pala-ai). In some myths the Menehune are excellent archers. They have been told to occasionally employ magic arrows to pierce the heart of the angry, igniting feelings of love. Another myth says that the Menehune are terrified of owls, and when they played too many tricks on the people of Kaua’i, the owl god of Paupeuo would summon all of the owls of the island to chase them back to their homes in the forest.

    By far the most shared legend about the Menehune is their expert craftsmanship in engineering and construction. Each Menehune was a master of a craft and worked together with the others with great precision. Their ability to work in complete synchronicity seemed so supernatural, it was often thought they might have magical powers, and there are myths in which they do. The Menehune only work at night, and if they were spotted by a human, they would disappear and never continue working on the project for fear of being caught again. Some myths say that the ancient Menehune rule was that they only started projects that could be completed in one night. They managed this by working together cutting, transporting and fitting lava stones for their great strength.

“The services of Menehune expert builders and craftsmen can be requested. This is especially so, if you can trace your family tree back to one of them. They then act like benevolent godparents. Many a major project, such as the preparation of a wedding feast, has been completed in a single night by the super strong little gods, while all humans slept.” -Encyclopedia Mythica

    The Menehune are reported to have created many structures, including temples, or heiaus, fishponds, roads, canoes and houses, some of which still exist. The most well-known structure made by the ancient Menehune is the Alekoko Fishpond at Niumalu on the island of Kaua’i, also known as the Menehune Fishpond, thought to be over a thousand years old. The pond was built by extending a 5 foot high and 900-foot long lava rock wall out from the Hueli’a River, creating a dam in order to trap young fish. It is one of the finest examples of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture and seems to have been meticulously assembled. In 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It also seems to have been left partially unfinished by the Menehune, as two gaps were left in the fishpond wall for unknown reasons. Later in the late 1800s, Chinese worked filled in the gaps with a much different and less meticulous style of stonework to raise mullet. The gaps were explained in a widely told myth about the construction of the fishpond by the Menehune.

“A double row of Menehune extended 25 miles to distant Makaweli on the west side. The workers passed stones hand-to-hand and built the fish pond for a princess and her brother. The Menehune were promised no one would observe them at work, which was carried on after dark. However, one night the royal pair snuck up and watched the thousands of Menehune at work, only to fall asleep. At sunrise the Menehune discovered them and turned them into twin stone pillars that can be seen today in the mountains above the fishpond. Dismayed by the interruption, the Menehune left two gaps in the fishpond wall.” -Mythical Realm

    Another structure popularly believed to have been constructed by the Menehune is the Kikiaola ditch at Waimea, also on the island of Kaua’i, a historic aqueduct that funnels water for irrigation from the Waimea River. Also known as the Menehune Ditch, it was constructed with 120 finely cut basalt stones, “flanged and fitted so that the smooth, flattened surfaces fit closely together” (No Ka Menehune Wiki). Stonework like this has not been found elsewhere on the Hawaiian islands, despite there being many stone-lined ditches for irrigation. In 1984, the Kikiaola ditch was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Now, the remnant of one stone wall of the ditch lies alongside a road, the creation of which is considered to be the main source of destruction of the ditch. It has also been reported that rocks were taken from the site for other projects, including Waimea’s Protestant church.

    On the other side of the chain of Hawaiian islands lies the uninhabited Necker Island. In some of the legends that say the Menehune were chased out of the Hawaiian islands by Polynesian or Tahitian colonists, this was said to be there last place of refuge far to the northwest. No archaeological evidence has been found of long-term human habitation, but there are as many as fifty-two interesting sites on the island. Thirty-three of the discovered sites are stone shrines, or ceremonial heiaus. They are basalt stones placed upright, possibly in relation to the stars, with rectangular platforms and courts. The largest site had nineteen of these stones, although only eleven are still standing. Many anthropologists believe the island was not inhabited, but instead used for ceremonial and religious rites. Now Necker Island is a national historic site and few step foot there except for historical or scientific research.

    Legends suggest the Menehune had something to do with many other sites, but many stories conflict. Pa o Ka Menehune, or the breakwater at Kahalu’u Bay on Hawai’i was said to have been constructed by the Menehune. It was thought that once it might have enclosed the entire bay, but now it is broken up by the many storms that have passed. Ulupo Heiau at Kailua on O’ahu, a large stone platform surrounded by walls up to thirty feet high, was thought to have been started by the Menehune, although it was later used by the high chiefs of O’ahu.

Where did the Menehune come from and where did they go?

    There are many myths and legends, theories and ideas that have come from the mouths of storytellers and historians alike. What we do know is that no bones from a short race of people have been found in Hawai’i. However, many artifacts recovered from ancient Hawaiians, such as bowls, games, musical instruments and weapons, were decorated with depictions of a little people. Like the Menehune, they are usually carved doing labor or in lighthearted play. There is no written evidence that these legends go beyond the settlers of the 1700s, as Hawaiian tradition was passed down orally. However, in 2003, an extinct species of short-statured people was discovered to have lived in Indonesia on the island of Flores. They only stood about three feet tall, similar to the Menehune. However, they did not build with stone. Could these “hobbits” have traveled as far as Hawai’i and learned to become master builders? Where else could they have come from?

There are many theories about the origin of the Menehune:

  • One popular theory is that the Menehune were the first settlers of Hawai’i, traveling from the Marquesas Islands between 0AD and 350AD. At one time, they were thought to number almost half a million. Around 1100AD, physically larger settlers came from Tahiti and oppressed the “commoners,” or “manahune” in Tahitian. The Menehune fled from the Tahitians and hid in the mountains, coming out only at night to search for food. This eventually led to the term Menehune and could also be the origin of the belief that the Menehune were a small race of people; the term “manahune” refers to a lowly social status and not a physical status. This may have been misconstrued by the time Europeans arrived, resulting in the legend of the Menehune they recorded. Although no bones were discovered, in 1820 a census of Kaua’i by a ruler, Kaumuali’i, listed 65 people as Menehune from La-au in a hidden valley at the heart of the island, which is the location the Menehune were thought to have fled to. Once pushed from Kaua’i, their last stand was believed to be Necker Island, far to the north.

  • Alternatively, the Tahitians could have been the original settlers of Hawai’i, bringing the name manahune with them. Warriors from Raiatea could have been the ones to push the “manahune” out, the term then taking on a very different connotation.

  • Another concept is that the Menehune were not the first settlers, but the Nawao were, full-sized wild men. The Menehune somehow pushed them out, and when the modern Hawaiians arrived, at first they began interbreeding with the natives. But it wasn’t long before the Menehune were enslaved and forced into hard labor. Some escaped and fled to Kaua’i, developing a lifestyle of hiding.

  • Yet another concept is that the Menehune did not exist at all. They were made up by the ali’i, the rulers, so they wouldn’t have to give the credit for great construction projects to the simple common folk who were forced to make them.

  • A few have even suggested that the Menehune are actually just a species of primate, yet undiscovered.

“Belief in their existence appears to persist even past the age when a belief in Santa Claus has been surrendered. One encounters adults, educated and presumable sane individuals, who become quite indignant if an eyebrow is twitched about their belief in the Menehune.” -The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania by Katharine Luomala

Myths & Tales Told About the Menehune:

  • “Another description that has been passed down in local folklore is of the three Menehune of Ainahou. Ainahou is a forest on the north side of Halekala Crater on Maui. The three Menehune were called Ha’alulu, Molawa and Eleu. All the other Menehune living in Hawaii knew them well because they possessed very unusual powers. He’alulu means “to tremble” and it seemed like this little man was always cold, but his magic gift was that whenever he would start shaking, he would become invisible and could travel anywhere without being detected. Eleu in Hawaiian means “quick and nimble” and whenever Eleu moved, he was so quick that he disappeared and no one could follow him. Molowa’s name means “lazy”, but what most people didn’t know was that whenever he appeared to be sleeping or lazy, his magical self became imperceptible and he would go around the island and do good deeds.” -To-Hawaii

  • “After living some time in Lanihuli valley the Menehune are commanded to migrate because they are being troubled by thieving and then men are taking wives among the Hawaiians and destroying the purity of the race. Not a single expert craftsman is allowed to remain behind. Along the route they traveled, offerings of leaves are still made to certain rocks which mark the petrified body of one or another of their number who was so changed because of disobedience or folly, and who is still supposed to have control over the weather.” -Hawaiian Mythology

  • “In the old times, some Hawaiians married Menehune girls, who were said to be quite fair, but needed to be shown how to make a fire and eat cooked food, because their own diet consisted only of starchy raw vegetables.” -Encyclopedia Mythica

  • “A “bow-legged, deep-voiced” Menehune named Weli is sheriff for the chief and planted the breadfruit trees on the plain of Lumahai. A Menehune named Maliu once lingered in a Hawaiian house and was missed from work, but escaped punishment because he was able to report the discovery of a new spring of freshwater.” - Hawaiian Mythology

  • “Another tale states that these creatures threw rocks into the mouth a giant, giving him indigestion and prompting him to lie sleeping on Kauai to this very day - the famous Sleeping Giant, a mountain that vaguely resembles a human-like figure in repose.” -Jason Colavito

  • “Some say that the great god Maui himself, was one of the tiny creatures.” -Encyclopedia Mythica

  • “According to a version of the story current in the nineteenth century, the Menehune were invisible to non-native visitors to Hawaii, and only Natives could see them.” -Jason Colavito

  • “So the prophecy is that when there is peace on earth, they’re going to come out and help rebuild the planet. We sure could… use their help… The Hawaiians believe… we’re in the third dimension right now… They went into the fifth dimension. So... if your heart is filled with love, which is a fifth dimensional thing that,... you might catch a glimpse of them. They might be watching you on this trail.” -Legend of Menehune